Children’s Day: Is Nigeria doing enough for her future leaders?

NIGERIA celebrates 2022 Children’s Day amid growing concerns over child rights abuses which prevent children from living their dreams.

Marcus Fatunmole takes a look at these concerns in this analysis.

Many families will commemorate Children’s Day in Nigeria this year with mixed feelings.

Today brings to remembrance the loss suffered by some parents because they enrolled their children in school. Others will be sad because their children are among 18.5 million children not currently in school.

Yet others will be anxious over insecurity and other socio-economic crises blanketing the nation.

While global indices show how Nigeria loses millions of her children to diseases, poverty, and other preventable causes, some children have died in the past year from abuses in school, where society expects them to receive guidance towards becoming nation builders. 

A list of a few of these children will suffice. In December 2021, a 12-year-old Sylvester Oromoni died after his fellow students allegedly abused him at Dowen College in Lagos State.

Five-year-old Hanifa Abubakar

In Kano State, the teacher of five-year-old Hanifa Abubakar killed her in January after abducting her and demanding ransom. Her death drew national outrage.

The nation’s capital, Abuja, had its share of the menace. A 14-year-old Keren Akpagher reportedly died in June 2021 at the Premier College Lugbe after allegedly being raped by her teacher.

Again in Lagos State, a mother exposed how some fellow pupils of Chrisland Schools raped her daughter when participating in the World School Games in Dubai in April.

Another 12-year-old pupil of Simple Faith Schools, Agbara, Lagos State, Emmanuel Amidu, reportedly died after his teacher flogged him for failing to do his assignment.

In Delta State, a teacher, Emeka Nwogbo, allegedly flogged a 19-month-old baby to death in February.

What children do on this day 

Nigeria set aside May 27 to fete her children in 1964, though the United Nations had picked November 20 for the celebration a decade earlier. Countries choose different dates to celebrate their children.

On Children’s Day in Nigeria, millions of children engage in activities such as a march past, public shows, appearances on media stations, and visiting recreational parks.

It is usually a day to reflect on their past, present and future. Their teachers, parents and the nation’s leaders make them see themselves as assets to the clan, community and country. They also make the children have a positive mindset about their country. 

Children in Gombe State celebrate on Children’s Day

Customarily, political leaders meet with the children and pledge to execute policies to better their lives. But they hardly make good such vows.

Article 1 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child defines ‘children’ as persons up to the age of 18. 

The Nigerian Child Rights Act also says any person below 18 is a child.

According to the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF), children under 15 make up 46 per cent of the country’s population.

Nigeria’s current population is about 217 million.

State of Children in Nigeria

The most recent data by the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) show 18.5 million out-of-school in Nigeria.

Boys lead the chart with 10.7 million, while girls are 7.5 million in the 2018 data.

However, recently, in May 2021, a UNICEF official in Nigeria Rahama Farah said the figures for girls is now over 10 million.

Using the Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys (MICS), UNICEF estimates that nearly 114 out of 1000 children die before they clock five, though the mortality has steadily declined since 1990.

Water, sanitation, hygiene, shelter, nutrition, and security have been huge challenges for Nigerians, especially children.

Only 30 per cent of the citizens have access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation.

A malnourished child

On nutrition, UNICEF notes that “Nigeria has the second-highest burden of stunted children globally, with a national prevalence rate of 32 per cent of children under five. An estimated two million children in Nigeria suffer from severe acute malnutrition (SAM), but only two out of every ten children affected is currently reached with treatment.”

While providing a $700 million credit from the International Development Association (IDA) in 2021 to support Nigeria’s Sustainable Urban and Rural Water Supply, Sanitation, and Hygiene Program (SURWASH), the World Bank said 60 million people lacked access to basic drinking water services in the country.

“In 2019, approximately 60 million Nigerians lived without access to basic drinking water services, 80 million without access to improved sanitation facilities and 167 million without access to a basic handwashing facility. 

“In rural areas, 39 per cent of households lack access to at least basic water supply services. Only half have access to improved sanitation, and almost a third (29 per cent) practice open defecation – a fraction that has marginally changed since 1990.”

President Muhammadu Buhari also decried the poor rate of hygiene and sanitation while declaring a state of emergency on the sub-sector in 2018.

Muhammadu Buhari
President Muhammadu Buhari

Buhari said access to piped water services which was 32 per cent in 1990, had declined to seven per cent in 2015, and access to improved sanitation had decreased from 38 per cent in 1990 to 29 per cent in 2015.

“Our country now ranks number two in the global rating on open defecation as about 25 per cent of our population are practising open defecation.

“WASH services in the rural areas are unsustainable as 46 per cent of all water schemes are non-functional, and the share of our spending on the WASH sector has been declining from 0.70 per cent of the GDP in 1990 to about 0.27 per cent in 2015, which is far below the 0.70 per cent at the West African regional level,” Buhari said.

Because of insecurity, The ICIR reported how parents withdrew their children from Niger and Kaduna schools in 2021.

Gunmen have attacked many schools and kidnapped pupils in the country’s North, with hundreds of children still in captivity.  

How child’s neglect may cost Nigeria SDGs

In April, The ICIR reported how Nigeria moved at a slow pace to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).


At a recent media dialogue on the SDGs as a Child Right, organised by the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture, in collaboration with UNICEF, a senior lecturer at the Department of Mass Communication Enugu State University of Science and Technology, Enugu, Anthony Ezinwa, said the nation needed to do more for its children to achieve the SDGs.

Ezinwa said in his presentation titled: “Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as Child Rights” that the country’s present data on children positioned it way too far from achieving many of the goals.

Ezinwa said Nigeria was ranked 160th on the 2020 world’s SDG index 2020 from 159th in 2019.

He said 83 million Nigerians, representing forty per cent of the country’s population, live in poverty. 70.3 per cent of children live in poverty, while 23.3 per cent live in extreme poverty. 

Nine states have yet to domesticate Child Rights Act

As of November 2021, nine states were yet to domesticate the Child Rights Act (2003).

The Federal Government enacted the law to advance child protection, and states were to domesticate the law.

Children victims of conflicts, recruited as child soldiers

Picture of child soldiers used to illustrate the story

In Nigeria, children have been victims of conflicts between state and non-state actors, inter and intra-communal wars, and parental divorce.

For over a decade, the country’s North-East has seen terrorism which has orphaned or separated children from their parents and left many of them killed or forcedly recruited as soldiers.

The UNICEF said armed groups recruited 8000 boys and girls in Nigeria between 2009 and 2021.

Nigeria is a signatory to Safe School Declaration (SSD) Protocol. The country hosted the fourth International Conference on the Safe School Declaration in October 2021.

The SSD comprises 112 member countries who, among others, are committed to ensuring that every boy and girl has the right to an education without fear of violence or attack… and every school should be a protected space for students to learn and fulfil their potential, even during a war.

Nigeria shut many of its schools while the meeting lasted.

Apart from Kaduna and Niger, many states are unsafe for school children, especially in the North.

Governments shut schools in Zamfara, Katsina, Kebbi, Sokoto, Borno, Yobe, Adamawa, and others in response to attacks by gunmen.

Save the Children said kidnappers took more than 1,000 school children in Nigeria in the first eight months of 2021.


According to UNICEF, between 2013 and 2018, terrorists captured a similar number of schoolchildren.

Similarly, in its statement marking the 2022 International Day of Education, UNICEF said one-third of Nigerian children were not in school, and one in five out-of-school children in the world was a Nigerian.

According to the organization, there were 25 attacks on schools in 2021. Bandits abducted 1,440 children, and 16 schoolchildren died from school attacks during the year.

School feeding dogged by corruption

The Federal Government said it will spend N999 million daily on approximately 10 million pupils this year under the National Home Grown School Feeding Programme (NHGSFP) across the country.

However, allegations of corruption have marred the Federal Government school feeding programme.

My government is doing its best to safeguard children’s future – Buhari

Meanwhile, President Muhammadu Buhari has said his government was setting a good foundation on which children and other people in the country would prosper.

He also said child education remained a priority for his government.

Students in Classroom
Photo Credit: Naija News

In a statement by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, to commemorate Children’s Day on Thursday, the president recognised the place of education in the development of any country.

He pledged his commitment to seeing a significant reduction in out-of-school children.

He said other issues such as healthcare, protection from harm, drugs, cultism, child trafficking and abuse, and domestic violence, would receive adequate attention from his government.

    “President Buhari believes that Nigerian children deserve the best and a safe country where they can grow, make friends, interact and travel freely, and emerge as successful leaders in different fields of endeavour”, the statement reads in part. 

    Buhari signed the National Health Insurance Authority Bill (2022) into law on May 19.

    The law, which makes health insurance mandatory for all Nigerians, will be a boost to children’s access to healthcare in the country.

    It will also support pregnant mothers to enjoy better health services

    Marcus bears the light, and he beams it everywhere. He's a good governance and decent society advocate. He's The ICIR Reporter of the Year 2022 and has been the organisation's News Editor since September 2022. Contact him via email @ [email protected].

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